(This never-before reprinted conversation was originally published in an issue of the L. A. Reader in mid-1984 (at the time of the movie release). During our post-interview conversation Frank, who was on his way to climb the Himalayas with Sherpa guides, mentioned that he had just written the outline for what would be the final Dune book and he and an attorney had put a copy in a safe deposit box until he returned just in case anything happened to him. On his way to the Himalayas, Frank was diagnosed with a fast moving cancer, and passed away a few months later. Twenty years on, I discovered that no one in the Herbert family had known of the outline, and that its existence had only recently been discovered.)
“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows, To begin your study of the life of Muad’Dib, then take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate Muad'Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis . . . Arrakis, the Planet known as Dune, is forever his place.”
In 1965, after being turned down by 22 different publishers despite its enthusiastically received serialization in Analog, Frank Herbert's Dune was published in a tiny edition, of 2, 000 copies by a small house known principally for auto-repair manuals. Later that year, the paperback rights were picked by a publisher of genre fiction, notorious for never paying royalties. Herbert's earnings from both editions of his monumental vision (700-plus pages) totaled a modest $2,500.
Nearly 20 years later, Dune and its successors have become massive-selling cult classics, their success aided by a terrific series of plugs in the Whole Earth Catalog and avid proselytizing by hardcore fans. The fourth book, bearing the unlikely title God Emperor of Dune, seemed to be permanently ensconced on the New York Times bestseller list, and the Fifth, Heritage of Dune, has also made the list. And David Lynch's filmed version of Dune was reportedly one of the most expensive movies ever made (for its era).
The Dune cycle blends traditional science-fiction elements - supermen, galactic intrigue, alien ecology, panoramic battles between good and evil, etcetera] - with what the Science Fiction Encyclopedia terms "complex intellectual discourse and genuinely developed concepts." A common theme in his work is an extrapolation of evolution, and how natural selection creates humanoids able to thrive in the most extreme environments.
Herbert grew up and was educated in Washington state and spent two decades as a reporter and photographer for newspapers in the Northwest before becoming a full-time novelist. (He was one of the first photojournalists to use a 35mm camera.) Since then, he has been peripatetic to an extreme, living on and traveling to countless islands and at least five continents. He next plans to explore the terrain surrounding Mt. Everest, with several Sherpa pals, and to document the East/West culture clash in that altitudinous zone.
But when this interview was conducted, he was comfortably settled in an airy condo on Manhattan Beach's boardwalk. State-of-the-art stereo equipment dominated the absolutely uncluttered living room. There are no books in sight. Herbert, clean-shaven, looked like a handsomer Jack Albertson, and was much thinner than the dust-jacket portrait would lead you to believe. Before and after the interview, he chatted fluently on subjects ranging from the latest camera gear to the intricacies of piloting small aircraft, and seemed genuinely pleased to be interviewed.
JMS: Dune is your most celebrated, successful and in many ways most personal book. Certainly you must have approached the movie version with a very critical eye. What did you think of it?
HERBERT: Some people who haven't read the book are a bit confused. About 20 percent of these are put off. The others are saying, "I missed something. I'm going to go back and see it again or read the book." But I don't want to be in a position of just flogging the book. It's a great movie. Really, David has done a damned fine job. Pictorially and texturally it's beautiful. I kept wanting to freeze frame shots and say, "I want that one on my wall, and that one, and that one." David's a painter; he had Tony Masters there as production designer, for God's sake. And his choice of visual metaphors is really superb. The idea of rococo Renaissance background art ... well, I recreated a medieval feudal society. So what does Renaissance art say to Western viewers? It says feudatory, right? You don't even need to mention it. It took me many pages to create the effect on paper he creates in two seconds with a shot.
The only way this movie could have been made was if they spent megabucks on it. And to be pragmatic about it, that meant they had to do a production they could show in theaters everywhere, and that meant that they had to cut it. Luckily, we have about five hours of film. In fact, we have as much film on the cutting room floor as we have on the screen. All the scenes that everybody misses from the book are all there. So we are now discussing doing a special mini-series for T.V. about three or four years down the pike essentially the uncut version of the film.
(Part II of this interview will appear soon.)
(Part II of this interview will appear soon.)